Landscape Painting: Rocks in Maine

by Jan Blencowe in Painting Inspiration
Climbing Up, 30×36, acrylic, copyright 2013, Jan Blencowe

Painting Maine’s Geography

As I continue to paint Maine I’m specifically drawn to painting  rocks, rock formations and the interplay between rocks and the encroaching trees and plants that make their homes in the fissures of rock formations and contribute to the breaking apart of these massive rock deposits along the coast of Maine.

I’m finding painting the forces of nature, and the processes of change fascinating. Tide cycles, floods, the breaking apart of rock, the destruction of trees by storms, the changing of seasons, and the weather all provide plenty of interesting subject matter. In Maine, since the climate is harsher and more extreme and the landscape more austere and rugged these natural processes seem to be more easily seen and more dramatic.


Schoodic Peninsula, 20×30, acrylic. copyright 2013, Jan Blencowe

The Pitfalls of Painting Rocks

Painting rocks is always a challenge. Rounded rocks have the propensity to end up looking like baked potatoes, cubic rocks tend to end up looking like shoe boxes! Rocks often have many, many subtle plane changes, color variations and surface textures. It’s important to look carefully at them observing the changes but it’s often very easy to exaggerate what you see and end up with rocks which are unbelievable colors, or whose three dimensional structure doesn’t communicate the volume and mass of solid rock with up planes, down planes and half or sloped planes. For a very long time I avoided painting rocks.



Rock of Ages, 20×30, acrylic, copyright 2012, Jan Blencowe

Rocks are part of the Landscape

However, if you’re a landscape painter you can’t avoid rocks forever! I began by mastering rounded rocks, they were much easier since they basically follow the pattern of shading you would use when painting a sphere. The trick was to find, (or create) interesting variations in the contour of the basically round rock. Grouping rocks into families with at least three sizes of similarly rounded rocks, and overlapping some of them help to create believable rock groups.

The chiseled, angular and cubic sorts of rocks were more difficult to tackle. Even in a rather realistic rendition of rocks a great deal of simplification takes place. It  helps to do studies and sketches first so you really understand what the rocks are actually doing as far as plane changes.

Looking for value patterns is important and will help you create consistently believable groups of rocks and rock formations.



                              Gray and Tender Rain, 16×20, acrylic, copyright 2012, Jan Blencowe

The Fascination of Rocks in the Marsh and on the Coast

Rocks are fascinating to me including their surface texture and the moss and lichens that grow on them. It’s interesting that while large plants and trees can help break apart huge rock formations, small plants like moss and lichen (Although moss and lichens are both called non-vascular plants, only mosses are plants. Lichen is the combination of algae and fungi.) can also contribute to the disintegration of rocks over time. That’s the process of nature that is captivating me right now.

In the next painting however, I’m going to re-visit another favorite New England subject, the northern marsh. After a half dozen rock paintings in a row the return to trees, plants and water will be a welcomed change.  

Stay tuned!